Illinois Rep. Melissa Bean’s aggressive courting of K Street may put her opponent Dave McSweeney at a disadvantage this week when he comes to town to raise money among corporate PACs.
McSweeney will appear at the House Republicans’ Retain Our Majority Program (ROMP) fundraiser tomorrow, an event likely to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars for a slate of candidates.
But some Republican lobbyists are not pleased that they are being asked to support McSweeney. They argue that the multimillionaire investment banker can afford to put more of his own money into the race, that other GOP candidates are more needy and that Bean (D), with her pro-business voting record, has won them over.
“The problem for McSweeney is he’s wealthy and he could self-fund,” said one Republican lobbyist who directs donations for a large corporate PAC. “It’s going to be a tough election year. You have a lot of guys who are going to need that money more. Therein lies McSweeney’s problem.”
Another Republican lobbyist echoed those sentiments.
“I’m a little surprised they would add McSweeney to the ROMP list. It would be a lot shrewder to hold on to [retiring Rep. Henry Hyde’s (R) neighboring] seat than to take on Melissa Bean.” Both lobbyists spoke on background for fear of backlash from congressional Republicans.
McSweeney spent nearly $2 million of his own money on his primary, making him the top self-funder so far this cycle.
Yet despite those deep pockets, House Republicans are determined to stock his campaign coffers with corporate donations. National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Reynolds (R-N.Y.) and Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman held a press event and luncheon for McSweeney last week after he clinched the party nomination. They promised the candidate “full support,” pledging to include him in another planned ROMP fundraiser in June, said McSweeney’s campaign manager, Jim Thacker.
Thacker said McSweeney has yet to consider how much of his own money he might spend on the general election.
“We’re feeling pretty confident that we’ll be able to raise the funds,” he said. “We’ve been working the PAC community since June and we’ve raised some money, but a lot didn’t want to get involved yet. We’ve met with many and feel pretty confident we can raise some dollars.”
Thacker noted that Bean’s vote for the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), while popular with business interests, alienated her from labor unions, which provided significant help to her campaign in 2004.
Bean’s support for CAFTA earned her the hostility of many unions, but it also boosted her profile with business.
Bean has raised just over $2 million this cycle, much of it from corporate PACs based in Washington, according to the most recently filed campaign finance reports.
Corporate PACs tend to favor incumbents, even freshman Democrats, over unknown challengers, but Bean has had to overcome the stigma of being the No. 1 target of House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R) this election cycle.
Some lobbyists were fearful early in the cycle that they would offend the Speaker if they supported Bean, whose district is in Hastert’s home state. But those concerns have largely dissipated, lobbyists said, especially with Bean’s CAFTA vote, which earned her the praise of House Republican leaders.
“In Bean’s case, she has stepped out and has supported our agenda,” said Bill Miller, vice president and political director of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a major business group that contributed $3,000 to Bean. “The question for the business community is whether you walk away when someone better comes along, or whether you support someone who’s supporting your agenda.”
Still, a Republican strategist close to ROMP said that House Republicans were watching to see who contributed to Bean, hinting that there could be consequences later for such donations.
“It doesn’t matter when you buy in [to Bean’s campaign], whether you’re the first or the last. At this point in time, people on our side will pay attention to who’s supporting her,” the strategist said. “Some of those people feel they have more cover doing it later, but from our standpoint, it doesn’t matter.”
Self-funders had a mixed record last cycle. Only two House candidates spent more than $2 million of their own money on campaigns, according to the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics: Texas Republican Benjamin Earl Streusand and Missouri Republican Jeanne Patterson, both of whom lost. Freshman Rep. Mike McCaul (R-Texas) spent $1.9 million and won.